The regularly scheduled school board meeting was cancelled last night due to ongoing concerns about spreading COVID19 during the pandemic. If public health restrictions remain in place on April 27th (the next meeting date), the board plans to hold a virtual meeting online using the free tool Zoom, which will allow both public comment and public attendance online.
As the superintendent announced today, the district begins remote instruction for the community’s 8,300+ public school students on Monday, April 6th. Teachers will use the time between now and then for professional development, learning to use remote instruction tools, developing online lesson plans, and discussing how to best provide regular and meaningful feedback to students on their progress.
I’ll be honest: I’m frustrated with the long delay in implementing distance learning. I had hoped this could be done much earlier given the resources and talent in East Penn. Online learning will be messy and difficult, with lots of problems and mistakes along the way no matter how much professional development teachers receive or how careful the district plans. So why not start as early as possible and use the extra time for ironing out some such issues? This is especially true given that our community will likely be sicker and under more stress two weeks from now than it is today. This means that online learning is going to be more difficult for more families in the future compared to right now.
All that being said, let me also acknowledge the incredibly difficult situation district leaders have been thrown into by the pandemic. The issues we are asking them to solve are both complex and rapidly changing. The statewide closing of schools has laid bare the central role the schools play in the community, not just in education but in nutrition, health care, childcare, transportation, employment, and so forth. Every decision in one of these areas ends up having implications for all the others. We have a diverse student population with very different educational needs. And there is an enormous web of legal requirements and state mandates that district leaders must navigate. All of this on top of the technical challenges! I learn of new issues or complexities I hadn’t thought of before every time I speak to district officials. I know that superintendent Kristin Campbell and her leadership team have been working extremely hard under extremely difficult conditions to do what is best for our students, staff, and the larger community. So while I wish we would move more quickly on remote education, I also recognize the value of their professional experience, judgment, and dedication in leading the district.
While Governor Wolf has officially closed schools only through April 8th, there is consensus among public health experts right now that they are likely to remain closed much longer than that. I appreciate that the district is planning for this reality. Stay safe everyone!